If you were to travel across North America and visit churches, you would discover many different types of sound systems in use. It is very discouraging to find that regardless of denomination, most of these "sound instruments" in this day and age are not serving the congregation very well at all. Comments are often made that, "I could only hear half of what was said!" or "the music was so loud, it was just noise!" Is this as good as it gets? Are there real solutions to church sound problems? I’m glad to say yes, there is hope for the church. As with the advice from Proverbs, wisdom and understanding is the first step to the solution.
The Church has an Enemy!
Most people are not aware of the many different types of sound systems that are available. Each sound systems has a specific purpose and capability.
The most common system is the “Architectural Sound System” used in malls, hotels, offices, and warehouses. They provide limited background music and are primarily designed for announcements for people on the go, who generally only listen for brief periods of time. Since these types of systems are “thrown in” by the architect or builder, they’re often of the poorest quality and frustrating people with hearing problems! Unfortunately the very same type of system is now being installed in many churches.
Another familiar system is the “P.A. System” common at fairs and outdoor events. These low cost all-weather systems are designed to broadcast announcements to the masses. The horn-type speakers used in these systems have a poor quality nasal sound. People often complain of earaches shortly after listening to these type of systems, especially if they were near to a horn.
The new portable Hi-fi P/A systems are used at most events and often installed in Churches. These temporary systems offer quick setup and incredible volume from very small components. The speakers often come with an electronic processor designed for enhancing music. The musical qualities are good but since the sound is “processed”, the speakers are often poor for speech. These systems are normally set up in mono, with speakers mounted on stands or the walls (to the left and right of the podium). This type of setup causes sound “dead spots”, and “listening fatigue”. Most people find these systems distracting because they see someone talking in one place, yet hear the sound coming from another direction. The “left/right” mono setup is a serious acoustical error and should never be considered for a Church.
The most effective system for speech and music is a sound reinforcement system. This system has the clearest definition even in acoustically poor rooms. The purpose of a sound reinforcement system is to reinforce all sounds, both music and voice, with extreme accuracy. These systems do this without coloration, as though no system is being used. Speech appears to be coming from the person’s mouth. These systems bring the sound level high enough for everyone, including people with moderate hearing loss, to hear without straining. They reinforce sound with the lowest articulation loss and without “dead spots” over the entire seating area. People that have experienced sound reinforcement are constantly amazed at the clarity. These unique systems take extra time to set up and sometimes can be difficult to install, however the end result is well worth the effort!
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